In a NOW feature Is there Hope in Hell?, we featured Jonothon Porritt’s book Hope in Hell – A Decade to Confront The Climate Emergency. It is a powerful ‘call to action’ and eloquently sets out the reality of the hell ahead and the compelling grounds for hope IF we can change course fast enough.
Jonathon Porritt is the founder director of Forum for the Future. On the back of COP 26, he observed that Glasgow was not an outright failure, but falling so far short of what is so urgently needed in the real world (1.5C) as to leave almost everything still to play for in Sharm el-Sheikh at COP 27. He cited 5 reasons to suppose we’ll be in a different place at COP 27 this week:
1. Loss and Damage
At last! Just like people were astonished to discover that the principal cause of accelerating climate change (namely, fossil fuels) had never actually been name-checked in any previous COP communiqué over the previous 25 sessions, so the Glasgow Climate Pact formally acknowledged, for the first time, that the SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT ISSUE for the majority of countries today is REPARATIONS. Compensation for the damage climate change is already causing, and for the infinitely more serious damage it will be causing from herein on.
Without substantive progress on loss and damage between now and this time next year, Sharm el-Sheikh will be as dead in the water as its stressed-out reefs.
2. The Re-Generation
Most of the young people who were there in Glasgow will be back in their own countries, pretty much crushed by the failure of COP26 to rise to that very special moment.
They shouldn’t be crushed for too long. For millions of people, their abiding memory of Glasgow will be the passionate, eloquent, courageous young people who spoke out, bore witness, marched and transformed every occasion they were so powerfully present in.
Forget the lost COVID years of 2020 and 2021. See 2022 as 2019 reprised, with a lot more experience and edge.
3. The Ratchet
Defenders of the 2015 Paris Agreement (which would have condemned us to a temperature increase in excess of 3°C by the end of the century) were always urging us to bear in mind the ‘mandatory ratchet’ – obliging countries to come forward with more ambitious targets in five years’ time. And it (sort-of) worked: all those revised targets for Glasgow have now ratcheted the projected temperature rise down to just 2.4°C – still the end of life on Earth as we know it today, but marginally less apocalyptic.
But Glasgow posed a new and much more important ratchet: come back next year in Sharm el-Sheikh with much more ambitious targets, this time based on what countries plan to get done by 2030, not by 2050. And then come back again in 2023, and so on…
4. The Good Old IPCC
There were plenty of references in Glasgow to the IPCC’s (‘Code Red’) Sixth Assessment Report. However, without getting too geeky about this, those references were only to the Report of Working Group 1 of the Sixth Assessment Report, covering the science. Working Groups 2 (Impacts) and 3 (Mitigation) don’t present their final reports until Q1 next year, and then there’s the full Synthesis Report in September, the point at which all Governments must formally acknowledge the full weight of the science.
It would have helped to have had the full weight of that Assessment Report for Glasgow. It will help very significantly for Sharm el-Sheikh. Indeed, the Impacts report (Working Group 2) has already been leaked. I’m not sure where António Guterres will need to go beyond Code Red for his summary of all this (Code Purple, perhaps?), but at that point there will be not one scintilla of residual doubt that we will all be comprehensively screwed beyond 1.5°C.
5. Nature-Based Solutions
After Glasgow, this will now be properly on the agenda for Sharm el-Sheikh. Scientists, NGOs and a few countries are already gearing up appropriately for this – with a chance to move things forward materially between now and then a different COP (this time for the Convention on Biological Diversity) taking place in Kunming in China at the end of April next year.
Jonathon Porritt emphasised that the prospect of bringing together these two hitherto disconnected science-policy processes (climate change and biodiversity) is super-significant and hoped that young people will not automatically dismiss all of this process as yet more blah-blah-blah as they confront their still more-or-less useless governments: this is the way those governments work. And this is part of what citizens need to be focused on to ratchet up the pressure. This in no way weakens the case for more civil disobedience, but it should remind us that these two approaches are entirely complementary.
The big questions: Will that be enough to take us from the 3.7oC of Paris and the 2.4°C of Glasgow to that ‘still hanging by a thread’ 1.5°C in Sharm el-Sheikh?